The Century Plaza Hotel in Century City was usually Ronald Reaganís preferred host when he was in Los Angeles for brief business during his two-term Presidency.
In the summer of 1982, during Reaganís first term in office, I was living at Casa De Vida apartments in the Palms district of L.A. Casa De Vida was a sprawling 365-unit building on Sawtelle Boulevard - at the time owned by Carol Burnett and her husband Joe Hamilton - nestled against the 405 Freeway. The nearest grocery store on this stretch of Sawtelle was over a mile away but a short stroll across the freeway overpass revealed two shopping centers on Sepulveda Boulevard, one anchored by an Albertsonís, the other by a liquor store and sushi restaurant.
The Presidential motorcade always took Sepulveda Boulevard north from LAX whenever Reagan was in town, which was quite frequently during his first term. Residents of Casa De Vida grew accustomed to the low overhead thumping of chopper blades scraping the sky as L.A.P.D. and Secret Service air units tracked the motorcade.
One afternoon I must have missed the premonitory choppers. Itís easy to adopt a casual air about police helicopters in L.A. Thereís always one or two hovering above a crime scene somewhere.
I emerged from the liquor store on Sepulveda with a six-pack of Lowenbrau in a brown paper bag in my arms. I began to step off the curb when the crosswalk signal gave me the go-ahead but I was halted in mid-stride by the sight of a fleet of sleek black Town Cars bullying their way north on Sepulveda. G-sleds. Government cars. Presidential motorcade.
One of the black G-sleds glides to a stop at the curb. Emerging from the passenger side of the car is an impeccably groomed, fresh-faced Secret Service agent, shoulder holster bulging beneath his black suit coat.
"I hate to ask you this," he announced with one of the most welcome smiles Iíve ever seen. "I need to see whatís inside your bag."
I extended the bag to him. He took a quick peek inside and grinned.
"Sure wish I had one of those right now," he said, returning the bag. He thanked me for my time and patience and retreated to his car just as President Reaganís limo rolled by.
Twenty-four years later Iím still living in L.A., the skies are still humming with the swarms of police and news choppers, but today they are tracking a more grim motorcade for Ronald Reagan.
Along with millions of others I watch on television as a small police escort leads the boxy black hearse down Wilshire Boulevard to the Santa Monica funeral home where the former president will be prepared for burial.
From the aerial point of view there arenít a lot of landmarks to pick up as the sad procession heads down Wilshire, save for one. One image that has burned into my mind for the sheer paradox of it: a huge sign above a restaurant faÁade, lettering large enough to be read from high above the parade.
One word in colorful, bold block letters.
© 2004, Rodger Jacobs
All Rights Reserved
Rodger Jacobs is an award-winning journalist, screenwriter, and documentary producer. He lives in Los Angeles and concurs with Jack Kerouac's summation that L.A. is "the loneliest and most brutal of American cities."
Visit his website to find more of his writing.